Last week started on kind of a low note, with a couple of losses in Florida, but Chipper Jones decided he was tired of losing and carried the Braves through a 3-game sweep of the Dodgers over the weekend. His health status is up in the air, of course, but he’s the current NL batting leader at .458, and he has a 67-point lead over Rafael Furcal for 2nd place. It’s not just empty average, either: he’s tied for first in OBP with Furcal, second in SLG to Chase Utley, and first in OPS.
The Braves finished the week in third place, 2 games back of the Marlins for first place, and 1.5 games behind the Mets for second.
This Week’s Stats
Plays of the week:
- Mark Teixeira singled home two runs against Chad Billingsley in the fifth inning of Saturday’s win (+.179).
- Tim Hudson didn’t have it on Wednesday, surrendering a bases-loaded 2-run single to Hanley Ramirez in the second inning of that loss (-.171).
- Yunel Escobar hit a 2-run homer off Mark Hendrickson in the 5th inning of that game, giving the Braves a 4-3 lead (+.169).
- The next inning, Matt Diaz grounded into a rally-killing double play against Justin Miller (-.143).
- While Sunday’s win was still a close game, in the 8th inning, Blaine Boyer got Andruw Jones to ground out with one out and a runner on third. Yunel Escobar looked the runner back and the Braves got out of the inning shortly thereafter (+.142).
- Chipper didn’t have the only nice week, as Kelly Johnson, Teixeira, Francoeur, and Kotsay all made their contributions. The problem right now is that they’re just not making contributions in key spots. Almost astoundingly, the Braves are over 6.5 wins below average in clutch batting (-3.371 team negative clutch performance) over the course of just 18 games, and it’s almost impossible to pin that on just one player. They won’t continue at this rate – it’s just not possible – but if you’re asking why the Braves are 9-9 and not 12-6 (their Pythagorean record), look no further for your answer.
- Having said that, the Braves’ hitting in general doesn’t even look like a problem so far. In context-neutral WPA (WPA/LI), they’re almost four wins better than average.
- Yunel Escobar is a ground ball-hitting machine (62.7%, like the Brandon Webb of hitters), which might not be good for a guy with average speed, but he’s keeping his line drive rate reasonable and making his fly balls count (25% homers). As long as he keeps that up and doesn’t start striking out more, it’s reasonable to think he’ll sustain a high .322 average on balls in play. His BABIP was .364 last year.
- Kelly Johnson has started walking again, so it doesn’t look like he’s in danger of being passed by Frenchy anytime soon. Jeff is down from a walk every 17 PAs in 2007 to about 1 in 26 this year, or about once a week. That’s not good, especially if he doesn’t return to 2006 form in power.
- How good has Jair Jurrjens looked? As the Braves’ only two-start pitcher last week, he pitched 13 innings, struck out a batter an inning, and allowed just three runs. The early return on the Renteria trade is fairly good, and pretty soon, broadcasters will actually have to learn how to pronounce his name.
- Blaine Boyer and Jorge Campillo had especially good weeks out of the ‘pen, but it looks like Manny Acosta is the closer until Soriano returns. Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.
The Road Ahead
Almost everyone plays three series this week, with two two-game series Monday-Thursday, and a 3-game series over the weekend. The Braves are no exception, drawing the Nats and Marlins at home before heading out to New York. Here are the probable pitchers:
Monday: Hudson vs. Matt Chico
Tuesday: Smoltz vs. John Lannan
Wednesday: Bennett vs. Andrew Miller
Thursday: James vs. Burke Badenhop
Friday: Jurrjens vs. Mike Pelfrey
Saturday: Hudson vs. John Maine
Sunday: Smoltz vs. Nelson Figueroa
They’re updated, and I’ve added a couple of things since last week: BABIP for hitters, IP/start for pitchers, and “effective outings” for relievers. I still have some bugs to work out on the last one as far as sorting goes, but the numbers are correct.